Four Ph.D. Students Awarded PEI-STEP Fellowships

Holly P. Welles ・ High Meadows Environmental Institute

Four graduate students have been awarded 2013 PEI-STEP Environmental Policy Fellowships by the Princeton Environmental Institute (PEI). Among recipients are: Stephanie Debats and Xinwo Huang from civil and environmental engineering, Aahana Ganguly from chemistry, and Geeta Persad from atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

Through the PEI-STEP Fellowship Program, Ph.D. students in departments outside of the Woodrow Wilson School receive funding for two-years to enable them to explore the environmental policy dimensions and implications of their doctoral research through supplementary course-work and policy-oriented research. Many PEI-STEP students are pursuing Ph.D.’s in science and engineering, although the program also includes students in the humanities and social sciences. Upon completion of the program, the students will graduate with the Graduate Certificate in Science, Technology, and Environmental Policy (STEP).

The PEI-STEP Program provides participating graduate students with an enhanced skill-set and interdisciplinary perspective, making them more effective and versatile to address environmental problems in careers as scientists, educators, policy makers, and business professionals.

To meet program requirements, the PEI-STEP students normally take three courses related to science, technology, or the environment. In addition, they must produce a paper or incorporate a policy component of publishable quality into their dissertations.

2013 PEI-STEP Fellows

Stephanie Debats
Stephanie Debats

Stephanie Debats, Perkins Fellow

Ph.D. Thesis: Crop Yield Variability in Dryland Agricultural Systems.
Adviser: Kelly Caylor, civil and environmental engineering.

PEI-STEP Environmental Policy Topic: Reducing Crop Yield Losses through Improved Food Security Forecasts and Agricultural Land-Use Policies.
Adviser: Michael Oppenheimer, geosciences and international affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

While her thesis work aims to understand the drivers of crop yield variability across landscapes, Debats’ research also has potential policy applications, which she proposes to explore through the PEI-STEP Program. She explained, “An understanding of small-scale crop variability means food aid and agricultural policies could target areas of food insecurity more precisely and efficiently. With the support of the PEI-STEP Fellowship, I will apply the tools developed for my thesis to: 1) improve the spatial resolution of food security forecasts for more targeted and effcient food aid distribution, and 2) develop land use policies to maximize crop productivity, based on optimization of agricultural land suitability and crop selection. These policies could greatly improve the quality of life of smallholder farmers throughout sub-Saharan Africa.”

Aahana Ganguly
Aahana Ganguly

Aahana Ganguly, Perkins Fellow

Ph.D. Thesis: Surface Science Studies on Nanoparticle Catalysts.
Adviser: Steven Bernasek, chemistry.

PEI-STEP Environmental Policy Topic: Responsible Regulation of Engineered Nanomaterials under Risk Uncertainty: Evaluation of the Toxic Substances Control Act.
Adviser: Michael Oppenheimer, geosciences and international affairs, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Ganguly’s participation in the PEI-STEP program fits well with her interests in “green” catalytic chemistry and the understanding about the overall environmental impact of the chemical industry. Discussing her research she said, “My thesis research equips me with an understanding of the surface chemistry of nanomaterials and the unique dependence of their physico-chemical properties on size, shape, surface modifications, and surface charge. These are the same properties that result in unpredictable changes in toxicological and environmental behavior with very small changes in structure of nanomaterials. This is the primary factor due to which characterizing risk posed by these nanomaterials to human health and the environment is so difficult. I wish to apply the understanding of unique properties of nanomaterials that I gain from my thesis research to the evaluation of existing regulation for nanomaterials and design of alternative regulation for these materials.”

Xinwo Huang
Xinwo Huang

Xinwo Huang, Ford Fellow

Ph.D. Thesis: Model Complexity for Subsurface Porous Medium Flow.
Adviser: Michael Celia, civil and environmental engineering.

PEI-STEP Environmental Policy Topic: Regulation of Subsurface Systems in China: Is it Possible for both Shale Gas Production and Carbon Sequestration to Coexist.
Adviser: Denise Mauzerall, civil and environmental engineering, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Huang’s doctoral research examines sub-surface flow mechanisms as applied to geological carbon dioxide storage and gas production from hydro-fractured shale formations. He said, “My main thesis is to study the detailed flow mechanisms behind the CO2 storage and the gas problems respectively. Through my PEI-STEP project, I propose to develop a policy framework for regulations of the subsurface system in China, with a focus on two emerging technologies, i.e., shale gas production and geological carbon sequestration. Currently, the Chinese government only gives exploration licenses to specific sites that are horizontally distributed, but there is almost no regulation on the vertical stack. Hence, before the commercial-scale deployment of shale gas production and geological carbon sequestration, clear and comprehensive policies on subsurface exploration activities are urgently needed. My STEP project will involve both technical and policy reviews of these two technologies, and finally developing an R&D strategy and policy framework applicable to the Chinese regulatory system.”

Geeta Persad
Geeta Persad

Geeta Persad, Ford Fellow

Ph.D. Thesis: Regional and Remote Impacts of Aerosol Radiative Effects.
Adviser: V. Ramaswamy, geosciences and atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

PEI-STEP Environmental Policy Topic: International Policy Implications of the Nonlocal Climate Impacts of Asian Aerosol Emissions.
Adviser: Michael Oppenheimer, geosciences and international affairs, Woodrow Wilson School.

Providing context for her project, Persad said, “Large aerosol concentrations over Asia significantly impact the region’s surface and atmospheric energy balance. Scattering and absorption of solar radiation by aerosol particles can decrease the shortwave radiation reaching the surface, reducing the energy available for evaporation and convection that are central in driving the region’s circulation and precipitation. My dissertation research is focused on studying the impact of aerosols on the climate using the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory’s (GFDL) suite of general circulation models, particularly focused over Asia as the current and future locus of aerosol emissions. My interest in large-scale simulation of aerosol/climate interactions is strongly driven by the human implications of aerosol-driven variability in Asian monsoon precipitation, as well as the importance for sound climate policy decisions of reducing uncertainty surrounding aerosol/climate interactions.”